The good news is that cancer mortality is coming down across the state, but the bad news is that a large number of people are still being diagnosed with different cancers in the Western NSW Local Health District. Central West residents and experts say they need more specialists, funding and resources in their fight against the disease. Regional journalist Sahil Makkar and Western Advocate journalist Bradley Jurd tried to gauge the current cancer situation in the Central West.
MORE than 1900 people in the western NSW region will be given the devastating news this year that they have cancer - and 700 people in the region will die from the disease.
But the battle no longer has to be waged far from sufferers' homes as treatments and specialist support are increasingly provided in regional NSW.
And Professor David Currow, chief cancer officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, says there is good news in the decades-long fight to reduce the disease's grip.
"Across the state, we continue to see an improvement in cancer outcomes, including decreasing cancer incidence and lower mortality rates," he said.
Across the state, we continue to see an improvement in cancer outcomes, including decreasing cancer incidence and lower mortality ratesProfessor David Currow
Professor Currow says lung, bowel and prostate are the most common causes of cancer deaths in western NSW.
Prostate, breast, lung, melanoma of skin and colon are the five cancers that most affect residents in the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo local government areas.
Prostate cancer is slightly more prevalent among Bathurst men (18.1 per cent) than Dubbo (16.1 per cent) and Orange (14.1 per cent).
Breast cancer, meanwhile, is more prevalent among Dubbo women (13.2 per cent) than Bathurst (12.5 per cent) and Orange (11.6 per cent).
Similarly, melanoma of skin cancer is more prevalent among Orange residents (10.6 per cent), than Bathurst (10 per cent) and Dubbo (eight per cent).
Comparison between Western NSW LHD and Sydney LHD
Data shows the number of cancer cases per 100,000 people increases travelling west from Sydney.
For instance, the cancer rate per 100,000 men in Sydney Local Health District (LHD) was 515.7 compared with 526.7 in Western Sydney LHD, 598.4 in Western NSW LHD and 656.1 in Far West LHD.
Travelling for treatment in the Central West
Alice Hopewood, secretary of the Bathurst Bosom Buddies support group, says people throughout the region travel to get treatment.
"Radiation is primarily done in Orange, so we have to attend there for radiation treatments. This can be for a long time, sometimes every day for six weeks," she said.
"We have the Radiation Bus which travels from Bathurst to Orange every weekday."
Malcolm Freame, chief operating officer at the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, says not all hospitals can provide a full range of services for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
"I am aware that Bathurst men with prostate cancer receive treatment at the Orange Base Hospital," Mr Freame said.
PCFA has cancer support groups in Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Parkes and Forbes.
Facilities available in the Central West
A spokesperson at the WNSWLHD said cancer care services have matured, since 2011, from fly-in, fly-out medical specialists from Sydney to cancer care specialists living and working in the district.
"With the expansion of nursing, allied health, technical and administration staff, people in our local communities now rarely leave the district for cancer care," the spokesperson said.
"Between 2011 and 2017, the number of chemotherapy treatments in the district [WNSWLHD] has increased three-fold.
"Radiotherapy treatments were initially provided by a single linear accelerator and the service has now expanded to a second linear accelerator in Orange and a third planned for Dubbo by 2021."
The spokesperson said a range of diagnostic testing and surgical services are provided in Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Mudgee, Cowra, Parkes and Forbes for people with cancer.
What is needed
Ms Hopewood said more Lymphoedema specialists are required in the Central West.
"As the diagnosis of all cancers is increasing, we will continue to need more medical staff to treat people with breast cancer and other cancers," she said.
The WNSWLHD spokesperson said the district's challenges for the next five years include a focus on supporting early diagnosis of cancer through screening, diagnostic and referral processes; improved access for Aboriginal people; and implementing high quality care across the district’s vast geographic area.
It is expected that the Integrated Cancer Centre for Dubbo Hospital, which is expected to open in 2020, will take care of some of the existing problems in the Central West.
Council pushing to clear the air
THE Cancer Council believes more lives can be saved and cancer's impact on Central West communities can be reduced if the next NSW Government takes decisive action.
It is asking the next government to strengthen the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 to ensure that people working or socialising in pubs and clubs are protected from second-hand smoke; amend the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008 to ban tobacco vending machines; and introduce an annual licence fee to encourage retailers to stop selling cigarettes.
"Workers and patrons of some bars and clubs in NSW, including the Central West, are still being exposed to second-hand smoke because the existing laws don't adequately protect them," Cancer Council Western NSW community programs co-ordinator Fiona Markwick said.
Data showed that the standard mortality ratio (SMR), which is a ratio between the observed number of deaths in an area and the number of deaths which would be expected, is highest in the state in the Western NSW Local Health District.
The SMR was 1.12 for the WNSWLHD and anything above one is said to be "excess deaths".
Ms Markwick said 11 candidates from Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo have attended the Saving Life 2019 Forums in the past two weeks to show their support.
Cancer Council is asking the next NSW Government to remove junk food advertising from state-owned properties and support national regulations on food marketing to children.
The organisation has also been seeking support for more funds for public lymphoedema services across the state.
"Timely access to lymphoedema services remains a problem in both rural and metropolitan regions," Ms Markwick said.
"Lymphoedema is a chronic disease not only related to cancer.
"We need to ensure everyone in the Western region has this access and this can only be done via the government increasing funding and services to enable more services.
"Left untreated, lymphoedema can cause severe physical discomfort and emotional distress to those affected."
Cancer Council provides a range of services in the Central West, including legal and financial support and accommodation.
These services can be accessed through the Cancer Information and Support Line: 13 11 20.
Fighting cancer on foot at the 2019 Bathurst Relay for Life
By Bradley Jurd
In what will be the 20th edition, this year's Bathurst Relay for Life will see fundraisers walk through the night to raise money for cancer this weekend.
Held on Watson Oval at All Saints Campus, Relay for Life raises money for cancer research, the support of patients and programs to help prevent cancer.
Cancer Council Western NSW community relations coordinator Katherine Bodiczky said numbers are lower than last year, but expects the numbers to pick up on the day.
"We're a bit lower than last year, but Bathurst being a last minute community, we're expecting more to sign up on the day," he said.
"We had over 500 registered last year, but we did get 60 sign up on the day."
There are currently 344 participants registered, including 34 survivors and carers.
There are also 36 teams registered, but not all participants will belong to a team. The target goal for 2019 is to raise $80,000 but only $22,341.91 had been raised as of Monday morning.
Ms Bodiczky is hopeful that the event will raise at least more than $50,000.
"It's been really amazing how the community has got behind this event and shown the support for the cause," she said.
Relay for Life will start at midday on Saturday, March 16, and will run to 9am on Sunday, March 17.
It's not too late to register, with registrations still being accepted on www. cancercouncil.org.au. Otherwise, registrations can be taken on the day. A
n estimated $65,000 was raised during last year's event, which was also held at the All Saints Campus.